Saturday, February 18, 2006

Lathe biosis

Someone who utters the counsel “Lathe biosis” is advising us to do what? The aphorism is credited to Epicurus as comprehending his recommendation that we live our lives as private citizens, avoiding any entanglements in politics and public matters. But "lathe biosis" enjoins quiet, inconspicuous conduct in some particular matter. As a general recommendation we want "lanthane biosis.” Live your life ( everywhere and always ) inconspicuously. Conduct your life in such a manner as to be unnoticed in everything you do. Let's think about this kind of advice as it bears on the Stoic's programme.

Every Stoic, even the Stoic Emperor, piously condemns the pursuit of doxa or kleos. Fame or celebrity is very much a fickled and treacherous external. Eschew it. Avoid it. Run away and hide from it. But be careful fleeing Scylla of celebrity, because the monstrous whirlpool of Asapheia waits to consume you. So Epictetus at Discourses IV. 4.

“Cultivate asapheia”, then, is poor intrepretation of the counsel to live incospicuously. But what is a good Stoic to do if Fate comes apounding at our door and demands we choose, celebrity or obscurity? Neither is a good. The pursuit of either is an evil. Doxa and asapheia are equally aquaregic to a true good like ataraxia. So which should I choose?

I'm sure you already know the answer. The Stoic of course chooses neither. Celebrity and obscurity are not the only doors of my house, through one of which I must pass. Celebrity and obscurity are rather ways or styles of coming and going. Adverbs of living, if you like. "Lanthane biosis" counsels, avoid’em both. Study not to live conspicuously, nor again inconspicuously. Neither a celebrity nor an obscurity aim to be. Lanthane biosis.